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It's Our Prom (So Deal With It)
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When Azure's principal gives her the chance to turn the school's traditional (and boring) senior prom into an event that will appeal to everyone, not just the jocks and cheerleaders, she jumps at the opportunity. Soon Azure manages to convince her best friends, Luke and Radhika, to join the prom committee as well. Facing heavy opposition and admittedly clueless about prom logistics, the three friends are nonetheless determined to succeed—if Luke's and Azure's secret crushes on Radhika don't push the committee members, and their friendships, to the breaking point first.
Told in two voices and filled with comical missed connections, It's Our Prom (So Deal With It) explores the ups and downs of planning an alternative prom—while dealing with an unrequited crush on your best friend—and shines with Peters's unmistakable wit and insight.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Lies My Girlfriend Told Me
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There must be an epidemic of flu or cold virus going around, because when I walk into my last class I see Mr. What's-His-Sub, the same guy I had in third period. He says, "Your teacher didn't leave any lesson plans, so you can use this time as a study hour." Good idea. I pull out my cell and scroll through my pics from Friday night.
We made our usual entrance to the theater, walking down the side aisle all the way to the front. As we crossed the curtain, Luke and I waved to people in the audience, while Radhika shielded her eyes as if she didn't know us. People turned to see who we were waving to, which was hilarious because we didn't know anyone. Then the three of us climbed the steps to the back row and scooted in with our tub of popcorn and supersized Icee to share. Luke plopped down next to Radhika, so I stepped over them to sit on the other side of her. I still remember the first whiff of her jasmine-scented shampoo, and how my breath caught.
Luke started pitching popcorn in the air and catching it in his mouth. "Radhika," he said, tossing a kernel to her. She stuck out her tongue, but missed. Luke grabbed a fistful of popcorn and threw it high in the air, all of us opening our mouths like hungry chicks, and laughing when most of the popcorn landed on our laps or the floor. I picked out a kernel from Radhika's hair and ate it. She turned and smiled.
That's the first picture I snapped on my cell. I study it and imagine her lips on mine. Shiver.
The next pics are a series with the three of us, heads together, making silly faces, or sipping from the Icee. Me, Radhika, and Luke.
How long had it been since the three of us had gone out together to a movie? Too long. I missed "us."
I'm so engrossed in scrolling through the pictures over and over that when the bell buzzes, I'm startled back to the present.
"Get a lot of homework done, did you?" the sub says to me on my way out.
I turn slowly. "Yeah," I go. "I read War and Peace on my iPhone."
"I've been waiting for you." Mr. Gerardi, the principal, ambushes me as I shut my locker door. "Follow me." He turns and lumbers down the hall of doom toward his office.
I grimace. Last week Luke and I had the bright idea to superglue UNISEX over the faculty restroom sign. It seemed only right; the Diversity Club has been campaigning for a unisex bathroom for the last three years. Now we have one.
We get to his office and Mr. Gerardi says, "Sit down, please," as he circles his desk. He folds his hands on top and smiles one of those smiles that looks like it hurts every muscle in his face. "I have a proposition, Azure," he says.
Uh-oh. When my dad says that, it means do or die.
"Is this going to take long?" I ask. "Because my ride's waiting."
"It might," he answers. "Do you have another way home?"
"Let me make a call." My heart thrums in my chest as I text Luke:
In deep shit. Go ahead w/out me. Blame you later.
After I drop my cell in my bag, Mr. Gerardi says, "Do you remember how last year you circulated the petition to eliminate prom?"
"It wasn't just me."
"But you started it."
Did I? Luke was the one who got all the signatures. I'm about as popular as herpes.
"If I recall correctly, your complaint was that prom wasn't inclusive."
"Because it's not," I say.
His smile is stuck in place and it's creeping me out. "Apparently, one of the board members got hold of the petition and agrees with you. Prom should be an event for every student in school. Although I don't see how it's not inclusive—"
"It's elitist." I edge forward in my chair. "It's so expensive only the richie rich can afford it, then the populars are the only people who go, so they can be seen. You have to take a date or you're labeled a loser."
Mr. Gerardi's smile fades from his face. He doesn't respond, so I go on.
"The tickets are seventy-five dollars, then you have to buy a dress and shoes you'll probably only wear once, or rent a tux. There's the cost of the limo, and probably dinner before or after." Not that I'd know. I've never been to prom. "I bet it comes to three hundred dollars. I'd have to work for fifty years to make that much money. Even then, I wouldn't go because right now I don't have a girlfriend."
I choke. TMI.
Mr. Gerardi must space my last comment because he asks, "If it was cheaper, would you go?"
"Not the way it is. I mean, the geeks, freaks, and uniques, like me, don't feel welcome at prom. It's a dance, but it could be so much more."
"Like… I don't know. I haven't thought about it. Because nothing will ever change."
He plasters on that fakey smile again. "What if I gave you a chance to make a change? Would you consider serving on the prom planning committee so the event would be more inclusive?"
"Are you serious?"
"It was suggested by the board. You don't have to—"
"I'll do it."
He fidgets with a paper clip on his desk. "Your biggest problem is time. You're going to have to organize this thing fast. It's already January, and the prom's in April. Mrs. Flacco, who usually sponsors the committee, has… dropped out. But I did manage to persuade another teacher to be the sponsor."
He makes it sound like he had to beg, bribe, or torture a teacher to volunteer. "Who?" I ask.
My eyes light up. Mr. Rosen is cool. He's young and has a ponytail, and from what I've heard all the girls are gaga for him. But not only the girls—Luke signed up for Mr. Rosen's Life Skills class, even though Luke's basically been living on his own for the past eight months.
"Can I ask people to be on the committee with me?"
"That's up to Mr. Rosen. I'm not sure who's already signed on." Mr. Gerardi stands, brushes by me, and holds open the door.
"Thanks, Mr. Gerardi." I head out. "Really. It's going to be great. You won't regret this."
His smile is kind of jagged. Behind me, I hear him mutter, "I think I already do."
Slipping into the unisex restroom, I text Radhika and Luke:
Guess what? They want us to be on the prom planning committee. Can you believe it? We're going to PIMP THE PROM.
I catch the bus home, and by the time I get there, I haven't heard back from either Radhika or Luke. Radhika, I can understand. She leaves right after sixth period and has to turn her cell off at home to study. But Luke? I call him as I'm traipsing up the drive to my house. "Didn't you get my text?"
"Yeah, I did," he says. "I just don't know if I can handle another commitment. I have my play, you know."
"Luke, this is what we've always wanted! Our prom. An alternative prom. The way we envisioned it, with everyone having a reason to come."
He sighs. "I know. I'm just really busy. I haven't even written all the music."
"Did I mention Mr. Rosen is the committee sponsor?"
I picture Luke's jaw dropping and drool sliding down his chin. "When do we meet?" he asks.
"I have to talk to Mr. Rosen first, but I'll let you know."
Dad's getting ready to leave as I open the door and slip out of my leather jacket. "Do you need a ride to work?" he asks. "I'm going your way."
"Going where?" I ask him.
He shoulders his holster, which means he's going to the shooting range. He blasts human targets to work off stress. I hate that he's a cop. Couldn't he find a safer job, like Ponzi schemer?
"I don't need to be there for another couple of hours," I tell him. "I'll catch the light-rail." It stops three blocks from the thrift store near Exempla Hospital in Denver. "Oh, and I downloaded the police scanner, so I'll know if there's an officer down."
He tousles my hair before shutting the door behind him. I wonder if there is a police-scanner app. I'm always afraid that one night I'll get the call, or the doorbell will ring, and the officer on the porch will inform me: "I'm sorry. He died doing what he loved."
What does it matter if you die doing what you love or hate? Especially if the daughter you leave behind has to go live with her psycho mother?
I crank up my nano as loud as possible without my eardrums exploding. For English, we're supposed to choose our favorite opening line from a list we got in class of the one hundred best first lines in literature. So far I have it whittled down to "Call me Ishmael." Brilliant.
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." That's from Middlesex, which I actually read and loved. Or, "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." My mind drifts and I think about prom. About what could make it the most magical night of my life. One word: Radhika.
How do you tell your best friend you're in love with her without ruining the friendship? Or making it awkward, or scaring her to death because you know, you're absolutely sure, she couldn't possibly feel the same way about you? At the thought of her my palms sweat and all my pores swell. I can't remember the last time I felt this way. It's been a while. Whenever Radhika's near, I want to take her in my arms, kiss her until we're both gasping for breath, then know—know—she feels the crush of passion I do. Even though she doesn't, and she can't, and she never will, because Radhika Dal isn't gay or bi or even curious. She loves me as a friend, and it'll never be anything more than that.
I see my cell light up and Radhika's ID appear. My stomach vaults and I toss my homework aside. I have a voice mail, too. How did I miss that?
"Tell me about pimping the prom," Radhika says.
I glance at my clock. Yikes. Time flies when you're fanning the fire in your loins. I fill her in on Mr. Gerardi asking if we'll plan an alternative prom as I sling my pack over my shoulder and rush out the door for work. "You'll help, won't you?"
She says, "What does it involve?"
"I don't know yet. I've never planned a prom, not to mention an alt one."
"Please. You have to. I can't do this alone."
"Can we talk about it tomorrow?" she asks.
"Sure." I don't want her to hang up, so as I'm sprinting down the drive, I say, "What are you doing?"
"Nothing. I finished my homework a while ago and now I'm just waiting for Mom and Dad to go to bed so I can Netflix a movie."
"Wish I could be there to watch it with you."
The silence stretches, which is unusual between us. "What's going on, Radhika?"
She expels an audible breath. "Mom and I had a fight."
"Over what?" Radhika and her mom never fight. Unlike other mothers and daughters who can't be together five minutes before they start screaming at each other.
"I want to cut my hair short like yours, and she won't let me."
"No!" I blurt out. Radhika can't cut her hair. It's gorgeous. Long and black and sleek as silk. "I'm still trying to grow mine out from the last time I butchered it," I say.
"You didn't. It looks…"
Hideous. I hear the train in the distance and start trotting. "I think you should think about it." Long and hard.
"It's my hair," Radhika says. "I should be able to do anything I want."
She's right. But still.
Radhika says, "My mother's so controlling. I thought I'd have more freedom now that I'm eighteen. You know?"
I send her a mental plea: Please, please don't cut your hair.
"I left you a message," Radhika says. "You can just delete it. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Wait!" But the line's already gone dead. The light-rail screeches to a stop and passengers surge out. I hop on board, grab a seat in back, and listen to Radhika's message. "You didn't tell me what your self-affirmation was for today."
My self-affirmation. I forgot. I pull out the calendar page and reread it: "Undertaking endeavors that seem beyond reach will grow you as a person from the inside out."
Radhika gave me this daily self-affirmations calendar for Christmas. I love it. I'd love it even if I didn't love it just because she picked it out for me.
Undertaking endeavors beyond my reach… That could be anything. That could be prom. That could be Radhika.
When did she leave this message on my cell? I listen again for the time. Right about when she would've gotten home from school. Which means she was thinking about me at the same time I was texting her. Karma? I save her message, the way I do all her messages, to play at night so hers is the last voice I hear before falling asleep.
"Wonker. Fill up the munchie bowl," Dobbs calls from the dining area where he's playing poker with my brother, Owen, and their crew. Of course Dobbs is referring to me. Does he care that I'm comfy on the sofa? That I'm fine-tuning my script on my netbook and watching a Top Chef marathon? Does he realize his cursing and throwing cards down and crushing cans under his foot is driving me to digital distraction? "Hey! You deaf?" he goes.
I look at Owen. He doesn't glance up, doesn't shut Dobbs down.
I set my computer on the coffee table and unfurl my legs. As I kick through a pile of crushed cans to retrieve a bag of mustard pretzels (those things are nasty), Dobbs goes, "Get me a Coke while you're up, faggot."
The tips of my ears burn. I wait for Owen to throw himself across the table and smash a fist into Dobbs's face, beat him to a bloody pulp. Instead, Owen deadpans, "He prefers to be called 'maggot.' "
Owen's crew snickers. I pretend I can't find the Coke, even though there are cases of it in the fridge.
Dobbs says, "Any day, zitwit."
I dump the pretzels into the bowl. Crumpling the bag, I fling it to the floor, knowing full well I'll be the one cleaning up. Accidentally on purpose, I overturn the bowl of pretzels into Dobbs's lap.
He stands and pushes me against the wall. His beefy hand clenches my neck.
Owen says, "Cool it, Dobbs. He's just a spaz."
Eyes shooting sparks, Dobbs lets me know who's in charge. He releases me with a shove.
Owen shuffles the deck of cards nonchalantly as Dobbs resumes his seat. "Don't call him 'faggot,' " Owen tells Dobbs. "He's bisexual."
Owen's crew "oohs" like a bunch of owls in heat. Dobbs curls a lip at me.
Cram it, I think. I head back to the sofa.
"Luke," Owen says, "he's sorry he didn't know you swing both ways. Tell him you're sorry, Dobbs."
Dobbs isn't Owen's lackey, the way I am. The look he gives me is: If we ever meet in a dark alley, only the ugly one is coming out alive.
"And if I don't?" Dobbs says.
Owen deals the cards. "I'll give you the cougar run next weekend." Everyone laughs.
Cougars are like the Real Housewives, but single and slutty. They pick up these boy toys in bars and party all night, then trash Owen's limos. Owen owns and operates a gypsy transport company, sort of a rogue limo and sedan service. He's never been one to work for The Man. He is The Man. He keeps telling me that: Don't forget who's The Man.
Even though Owen's drivers are supposed to return their vehicles in immaculate condition, guess who ends up scrubbing cougar vomit? Not Dobbs.
Dobbs breaks a pretzel in half and goes, "Soooooooooooo sorry."
Soooooooooooo insincerely. You can always judge a person by his taste in friends. Owen's palate is putrid.
When I first moved into Owen's house, after Mom and Dad got stationed overseas in Stuttgart, I thought my brother and I would hang out. Go to sporting events and concerts together. I thought I might even get Owen to take in a play or musical with me once in a while, seeing as how he could use some culture shock.
Futile fantasy. Owen's ten years older, and he's been on his own for a while. He bought this house in Lakewood that had horse property and converted the stable to a garage. I guess I had this idealized version of him in my head. Bachelor. Entrepreneur. Since the day I moved in, he's treated me like horseshit.
Some days, like today, I wish I had gone to Germany. But I really wanted to graduate with my friends. And when Miss Wells, the theater director, came to me and asked if I'd expand this skit I wrote into a full-blown musical for the whole school, the deal was sealed.
The phone rings and Owen slides back his chair to take it. His loser pals groan. "It's an airport run," he says. "Who wants it?"
His employees stare down at their cards. A beat passes.
"I could take it," I say.
Owen just looks at me. He sighs. "I'll go. Sorry to break up the game, dudes."
Dobbs tosses his cards on the table harder than necessary. No doubt he blames me for the buzz kill. What he doesn't know is that Owen wouldn't let me take a fare if I begged, pleaded, or bribed him.
Another reason I moved in was I thought I could help out with Owen's business. I even got my chauffeur's license and taxi driver's permit. But not once has he asked me to pick up a client. The most I get to do is wash and wax, then equip the cars with magazines and water bottles, which any moron could do. Occasionally he lets me park the cars in the garage. Whoop-de-doo with a cherry on top.
Oh, and let's not forget scooping out cougar chunks.
It's not about the money, either. I could give Owen every dime from the fares and he still wouldn't let me represent his firm by driving an actual customer. It's me. I disgust him. He hates what I am.
Dobbs makes a point of yanking the pillow out from under my head on his way out.
Everyone leaves and I have the bachelor pad to myself. I log on to Facebook IM and she's there. My pulse races. The only girl in the world who can turn me into butter with a smile. I think I'm in love with her. Take that back. I know I am. I type:
On the way to school Azure prattles on about all the awesome things we could do for prom. My head spins. I can't process one thought as fast as that girl can talk.
"I didn't get to ask Mr. Rosen about meeting times because he was out sick yesterday," she says, finally taking a breath.
"Tell me about it. We had Flacco for a sub. Her only life skill is living to a hundred and eighty." I stick out my tongue in disgust and Azure whaps my thigh. "Flacco actually taught us how to scrub toilets, like I haven't been doing that since I moved in with Owen. I was seriously considering stabbing a pencil in my eye to get a pass to the nurse." Azure laughs. Wistfully, I add, "I wish Radhika hadn't dropped the class."
"She dropped it? When?" Azure asks.
"After the first day."
"Something about it not being approved by her parents as intellectually challenging enough."
"It's only an elective. Can't she take one class for fun?"
"Why didn't she tell me?" Azure says. "She tells me everything."
She probably just forgot. Or Azure didn't give her a chance. Anyway, Radhika could blow off this entire semester and still graduate with straight As. She'd win Miss Congeniality, too. I've known her since the first day of junior high, and she's never said an unkind word about anyone. Smart and nice—a killer combo. Oh, and did I mention drop-to-your-knees-and-beg-for-mercy gorgeous?
"About the prom," Azure says. "I was thinking we could go all black. Black decorations, black clothes, black lights…"
I tune her out. Not that I don't care what she's saying, but now I'm thinking back on junior high. Azure, Radhika, and I were lab partners in biology. We just clicked. Seventh grade is hell anyway, and having Azure and Radhika for friends got me through. Even after I confided my sexuality to them, they weren't shocked or appalled. Azure because she had her own confession to make, and Radhika because she's a guardian angel. I think we were treated with more respect in school because of Radhika's acceptance and support.
Azure goes, "I hope Mr. Rosen's back today, because we need to get started ASAP."
I plug back in to her channel. I hate to tell her that my real fear about prom is that no matter what kind of event we put on, it won't be my vision of perfection unless I can go with my dream date.
"Who are you thinking of asking to prom?" I say to Azure as we pull into the parking lot.
She gets out and hikes her backpack over her shoulder. She must not hear, so I repeat, "Who are you going to ask—"
"We have a few minutes before the bell. Why don't we go to the teachers' lounge to see if Mr. Rosen's there?"
I have to hurry to keep up. The room's almost empty, but Azure knocks on the doorjamb and sticks her head in. "Mr. Rosen?"
He wanders over from the coffee area. "Hi, Azure. Luke." At the sound of my name, I melt.
"Did you get my note?" Azure asks.
"I did. The committee meeting is at two thirty today, if you can make it. Sorry for the short notice." His voice sounds nasally and he sneezes into his arm. He glances at me and says to Azure, "We already have five people. The bigger the group, the harder it is to come to a consensus. Sorry, Luke."
I thought it was a done deal that I was on the committee. I kick Azure's shin.
"But we need more people from the Diversity Club," Azure says, kicking me back. "Is everyone in favor of an alternative-type prom? Do they even know what it is? Do they care about making it happen? If it's just me against the world, we don't have a chance in hell of changing anything."
Mr. Rosen looks from Azure to me. "You're right. You're welcome to join, Luke. You'll be a great addition."
I feel my cheeks flame.
The bell blares and Mr. Rosen says, "We better bust it." He saunters over to a table to grab his backpack. Pivoting, he adds, "The meeting is in Art Studio 2B. If you're going my way, I'll walk with you, Luke."
We head down the corridor together, arms almost touching, and I swivel my head around, mouthing to Azure, Oh. My. God.
Her eyes roll back in her head.
Radhika slides across from me at lunch, immediately stimulating all my senses. She's wearing a yellow cashmere sweater, which looks luscious against her dark skin and black hair. "Thank God you didn't cut your hair," I say. I want to clap a hand over my diarrhea mouth.
"I was this close"—she spaces her fingers a quarter inch apart—"and I couldn't do it. Don't ask me why."
"There's a reason for everything. Oh, wait. Someone told me that once." It was Radhika, when my girlfriend Ami dumped me. Best thing that ever happened.
Radhika smiles and my stomach breeds butterflies.
"Have you had a chance to think about joining the prom planning committee with me and Luke?" I ask her. Please, please say you will. We need a leader. Luke's good for support and all, but he's not an organizer or a chief, and neither am I.
Radhika takes a bite of salad, not glancing up.
"I know you're busy with your college prep stuff. This'll be fun, though. It's our senior year, and we can really make a difference by putting on a prom that includes everyone."
She still doesn't answer. I wish Luke had the same lunch hour as us because he's better than me at begging without it coming off as… well, begging.
"I was thinking we'd go all black. Black clothes, black lights. Or if that's too one-note, maybe rainbows. Rainbows represent diversity, which this is all about. What do you think?"
Radhika finally looks up. "Whatever you do will be amazing." She takes a gulp of Snapple.
Not me. Us. "Will you join the committee, though? I really need you. I mean, we do." I mean, I do.
Radhika pokes at her salad, and I'm getting this weird vibe from her. "Radhika…?"
"I can't. Mom and Dad would never let me do something so frivolous."
"It's not frivolous! It's important."
Radhika grabs her tray and stands.
"You could ask them, at least."
She casts her eyes down on me with a fierceness I've never seen before. It actually makes me flinch. There's something going on with Radhika that she's not telling me—beyond dropping a class, or cutting her hair. We've always shared everything. Why is she holding back?
I watch her dump her half-eaten salad in the trash and think, This is so not Radhika. She's always happy, or at least content. Rarely emo. She keeps me grounded.
At the exit, she doesn't even turn around and wave or smile. This horrible feeling comes over me that everything I've known is about to change, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.
I'm startled when the final bell blares. My mind's been on Radhika all afternoon, on how I shouldn't have challenged her. Her parents have always been strict, and it's not my place to force a stupid issue like the prom com. I know she's under a lot of pressure to get good grades, and what she needs from me is encouragement. Encouragement and friendship.
I call Radhika as I'm packing my gear at my locker after school, but she doesn't answer. I can only hope it's because she's studying and not because she sees it's me on caller ID.
As I arrive in Studio 2B, Luke's already there, working on his netbook. He's alone in the room. "Mr. Rosen did tell us Studio 2B, right? At two thirty? Today?" I sit beside him.
Luke says, "That's what I heard." He clicks away on his keyboard.
Art classes must be doing pottery because the air smells like wet mud. I look at the vases and sculptures in various states of completion, feeling awed. Jealous. I wish I had an ounce of artistic ability. Luke got it all. He can draw, paint, sing, dance, produce, direct. "You're so damn greedy," I tell him.
He looks at me. "Huh?"
I point to a shelf. "Did you make that?" It's a miniature sculpture of a nude buff guy. I guess that's where the term sculpted abs comes from.
"No," Luke says. "But I plan to steal it."
- "A fun read about a Denver high school whose idea of inclusivity goes beyond the norm to include all 'geeks, freaks, and uniques.'"—School Library Journal
- "There are plenty of comedic missed and mixed messages...Romance readers will enjoy this alternative peek at prom."—Booklist
- "This engaging story explores some serious themes, but always with a light and humorous touch."—VOYA
- "Refreshingly realistic...a highly readable tale with a little something for everyone."—The Bulletin
- On Sale
- Apr 2, 2013
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers